Apple, Facebook Get Into Geolocation

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Location-based networks are heating up in 2010, and new rumors are out detailing new location features and services coming fr

om both Apple and Facebook. Location services, like Foursquare and Gowalla, are a hot trend among some mobile device users, and are usually based on a check-in model. When you get to a restaurant, party, concert or museum you can choose to broadcast your location, using your smartphone's GPS capabilities, to other network users as well as to your Twitter or Facebook feeds.

Some location networks involve gaming aspects, when users can earn virtual goods and promotional discounts for checking in often. Location services are believed to be the next big feature for social networks since many people now own smartphones with Internet and GPS capabilities.

Facebook changed its privacy policy late last year to get ready to introduce its location services, and the social network is expected to unveil its location-based plans in April. Apple's rumored move into location was a little unanticipated; however, as the blog Patently Apple points out, Cupertino has recently been showing signs of interest in social networking.

Here's what's going on:

Apple's iGroups

Patently Apple, a blog dedicated to scouring the United States Patent Office's records for recently filed Apple patents, uncovered evidence of a new location-based network from Apple called iGroups. With iGroups, users attending the same event such as a concert, wedding, conference, or other function would be able to share data with each other, such as photos and messages. The data could also be uploaded to the cloud and viewed on the Web.

If the rumors are true, Apple's plans sound very similar to Hot Potato, a new location-based network where users can check in at events and see real-time Twitter streams, and share photos and other information from an event.

Facebook Check-in

Details about Facebook's location feature are still a little murky, but TechCrunch is reporting that the social network will use Quick Response codes (QR) to make it easier for users to check in.

QR codes are basically square-shaped barcodes that can be used to store information l

ike a Website URL, address, or business name. Using a Facebook mobile app, you would take a photo of the QR code at participating locations, and the app would then use the information embedded in the code to check you in at that location. It's not clear if Facebook and its partners will follow the lead of location-based network Foursquare, and offer promotional discounts after you gain a certain number or check-ins.

QR codes have been in wide use in Japan for several years, and the trend is just starting to catch on in the United States. Google now uses QR codes for a number of things, including URL substitutes for Android application downloads and its new Place Pages service. PCWorld's Mark Sullivan reports that QR Codes were widely used in Austin this year during SXSW 2010. Disney is also offering its own spin on the concept of QR codes with its Click2Life mobile device feature.

While location-based networks have been popular with early adopters, these services have yet to gain mainstream adoption. But that may all change if the trend proves to be popular with Facebook's 400 million users.

What do you think? Are you interested in broadcasting your location when you're at the mall, sipping a latte or hanging out at the new bar in town? Or does the whole idea of letting the world know where you are at any given moment creep you out?

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul) or on Google Buzz.

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